Although living in Colorado for over 40 years, my roots–especially my food roots–lie mostly in New Jersey where I grew-up and in New York too, where a replica of this dish is famous. Even if a person buys cheesecake in another part of the country, many menus reference “New York cheesecake”. Its title is iconic, mentioning the state. But, in cooking and baking circles lately, creative chefs doodle with classical recipes. They incorporate foods, for instance from the lunch menu, like the simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, reaching new heights, bake a fresh rich dessert!
I too, after decades in the kitchen. still love cheesecake, but now I add my own nuances of ingredients into a traditional cheesecake recipe. I bake a smooth cheesecake combining an alternative crunch and nuttiness, plus a thin layer of fruit topping. I call this approach, “art in the kitchen”. This is where the baking process satisfies a creative necessity, the eyes, as well as, significantly, the palate!
6 tbsp butter, salted and melted
14 graham crackers (each 3 by 5 inches), broken in half
2/3 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped, but not too fine
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 pounds cream cheese (best quality), room temperature (4 8 oz. bars)
1 cup creamy peanut butter, Skippy or Jif brands only, no natural peanut butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry jelly or jam
1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by 13-inch pan generously with Pam.
2 Grind crackers in a food processor. Add the butter, nuts of your choice, the brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pulse until nuts are chopped well and the texture of ingredients look like wet sand. Add the mixture to the ready pan. Press down firmly with your fingertips evenly on the bottom and halfway up the sides. Bake 12-14 minutes until the color has shifted a bit darker. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
3 Reduce the oven to 325 degrees, and let the temperature stay there for at least 10 minutes. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter on medium until smooth. Slowly add the white sugar, mixing until incorporated and fluffy, scrapping down the sides as needed. Add the salt. One by one, mixing after each addition, add the eggs, and then the vanilla. Pour this filling into the baked and cooled crust, spreading it out evenly, especially reaching the side crust areas. Put it in the oven carefully. Important: bake until puffed and set along the edges, but still a bit jiggly in the middle, about 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely.
4 Whisk the jam or jelly in a saucepan on low heat until melted. Cool slightly. Carefully pour and spread a thin coating over the cheesecake. (Or alternatively, once the jam or jelly is poured on the cheesecake, spread it out carefully and slightly. Then, with a sharp knife going in about an 1/8 of an inch deep, make several wide winding circles in and around the cheesecake. Try to keep the knife pointed straight so as not to disturb the cheesecake too much. This will minimally combine the two ingredients. ) Refrigerate 3-4 hours until jam or jelly is firmly set. This cake freezes well for several days, or keeps in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Tips and Tweaks
- At step 3, use half peanut butter, and half Nutella for an alternative but still sweet taste.
- Once cooled, for an attractive appearance, sparingly sprinkle toasted sesame seeds atop.
- sticking with a traditional taste, use peanuts instead of pecans or walnuts.